Wednesday, June 20, 2012

EMU EGGS AND FARRO: Adventures in Feeding a Family

When my daughter was two-years old, she weighed 18 lbs and subsisted on three chicken nugget per day. (“I want chicken-fries!!!” she would shout, raising Sanctimommy eyebrows everywhere.) I was horrified. How would this little girl ever gain any weight? Or what if her palate never developed beyond processed chicken and she grew up to become a junk food junkie? I teetered on the verge of a panic attack at every meal.

Then I remembered two bits of sage advice:

1. “ No child with a plate of food in front of them ever starved to death. Don’t make food an issue.” The Jeanne

2. “ If you are a healthy and varied eater, your children will eventually follow suit.” My Therapist.

I began to relax. My daughter could have as many chicken nuggets as she desired, but I would continue to cook real food for my husband and I.

Since then, I have watched with great joy as both of my children grow increasingly adventurous in their eating. That’s not to say they don’t embrace a big ol’ plate of chicken fingers and fries, but they’ve added a few other items to the repertoire. Here are two tales of inspiration for those of you in the trenches of feeding your kids.

1. EMU FRITTATA

Every Sunday, my daughter and I go to the Green Market on Columbus Avenue in New York City. Whenever we pass Roaming Acres, So Fun Farms, which sells eggs from emus and ostriches, my daughter asks: “Can we get an ostrich egg? Please!!!” An Australian boy in her class once described how his Mom drills a hole in an ostrich egg, blows out the yoke, and serves it for breakfast. She has been fascinated ever since. Sounds cool however each egg costs roughly $30. That’s a pretty pricey egg to toss out once my kids have a (highly-likely) change of heart. Besides, what do I know about cooking ostrich eggs? Each week, my answer was No

Then one morning, I had my own change of heart. It’s not like she was begging to try the new Coca-Cola flavored Twizzlers. This was real, natural food and she was game. Unable to fork over the $30, I chose an emu egg, a large, dark green orb that cost a more manageable $17. One egg was the equivalent of 8 chicken eggs. “Just cook it like you would any other egg,” the man at the stand instructed. “Only give it a little more time. Emu is creamier than chicken egg.”

Unsure if I actually wanted my eggs to taste creamier, I decided to add as many different ingredients as pos

sible. I also figured I might as well get the most bang for my 17 bucks and serve this sucker for dinner. My daughter and I settled on an Epicurious.com recipe for an asparagus-mint-frittata. I substituted feta cheese for mozzarella and ricotta cheese to cut down on the creamy factor.

We started by trying to “drill a hole” in the egg. I forgot to secure the tip of the egg in a circle of masking tape or something else circular. As a result, we primitively chipped a jagged piece out and still did not destroy the egg’s structure. A very hardy shell.

This is just one egg!

We simply follow our original recipe with a single emu egg. I cooked it on low heat for about 15 minutes before putting it in the broiler.

The result: A perfectly tasty frittata. I would contend that chicken eggs are more flavorful, yet my daughter nearly cleared her plate. From “chicken-fries” to emu, she certainly has come a long way.

Emu Frittata:

Adapted from epicurious.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 emu egg
  • 1/3 cup feta cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 10 ounces slender asparagus spears, trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 3 green onions, chopped

Directions:

· Preheat broiler. Whisk first 5 ingredients and 2 tablespoons Parmesan in medium bowl to blend. Heat oil in medium nonstick broilerproof skillet over medium heat. Add asparagus and toss to coat. Cover skillet; cook until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Add onions; stir 30 seconds. Stir in egg mixture. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until almost set on top, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle frittata with remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Broil until top is set and starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Slide spatula around frittata to loosen; slide out onto plate and serve.
Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Minted-Asparagus-Frittata-101309#ixzz1yO1Bx68b

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2. FARRO SALAD:

Around the time I turned 40, I had the unusual pleasure of discovering a new food. At lunch with my Dad, I ordered a poached egg served over asparagus and Farro. I had never tasted this Italian spelt-like grain before and was delighted with its chewy texture and nutty flavor. I was even more delighted to discover that Farro possesses 7 grams of protein per serving, slightly more than quinoa, the other grain oft-praised for its high protein content. I’m always on the lookout for some non-meat sources of protein. Not because I don’t love meat, but having a vegetarian night during the week seems like a good idea. Sadly, quinoa had bombed big time with my family. My husband was the first to push it away with his fork; the kids quickly followed suit. They may have even mocked me.

Remembering the quinoa incident with painful clarity, I gingerly served up some Farro on a random weeknight. Lo and behold, they liked it! Even my son, who can be as fickle about food as John Mayer is about women, loved Farro. He gobbled it up, asking for second helpings. Sweet victory.

Since then, I’ve invented this Farro salad, which incorporates feta cheese, pine nuts and cranberries for to create a solid dinner entrée. So far, my son still eats it.


Farro Salad

Ingredients

8 oz of Farro

2 cups of vegetable broth *

3 scallions, thinly sliced

1 handful of parsley and/or fresh basil

½ cup feta cheese

½ cup dried cranberries

¼ cup toasted pine nuts


For dressing:

1 lemon, squeezed and zested

1 Tbsp honey

1 clove shallot, minced

2 Tbsp olive oil

Directions:

· For the dressing: Blend honey, shallots, lemon juice and zest to create a paste. Slowly pour in olive oil in a steady stream constantly mixing the dressing.

· Cook Farro according to directions on package using vegetable broth. Sometimes I cook the Farro the night before to avoid using the oven on hot days.

· Add scallion, herbs, feta, and cranberries and pine nuts. Toss well with dressing.

· Salt and pepper to taste.

· If Farro is still warm, let salad sit in refrigerator for at least one hour.

*NOTE: I often use this vegetable stock that I make myself: Anytime I buy leeks, I boil the unused parts in well salted water and let it simmer for about 2 hours. Take out the leeks, and freeze the broth for future use. It’s got tons of flavor.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

LITTLE HOUSE IN MANHATTAN

My dream has finally come true. Last week, my 8-year old daughter picked up our threadbare copy of Little House in the Big Woods and devoured it. As is the case with sharing many of life’s passions with your children, she had rejected my earlier attempts to impart upon her a love for Laura Ingalls Wilder. When I tried to read this book to her a couple of years ago, my daughter’s eyes glazed over. “Can I go to bed now, Mommy?” She asked.

“C’mon, honey, they are making candy out of maple syrup and snow. Just SNOW!” Untouched by my enthusiasm, my daughter shrugged and refused future offers to read the rest. I couldn’t comprehend her indifference. I had lived for evening reading sessions with my parents at age 6. What was wrong with her?

While my disappointment may be tinged with a shade of Literary Tiger Mom, you must understand: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s nine-book depiction of pioneer life was kind of a big deal for me.

Little House’s impact had nothing to do with Michael Landon’s schmaltzy TV series. Even as a kid, the show felt holier than thou. No, I was quite catholic in my devotion to the books, which are rather dry upon reexamination. Wilder spends an inordinate amount of ink recounting rustic-yet-ingenious homesteading processes, like smoking meat inside a tree. BO-ring! Yet Wilder’s commitment to detail –the clarity of her memory— is precisely what left a lasting mark on the way I saw the world.

Through her work, I saw the power of memory and words. Sitting in a Subaru outside our town pool in the early 80s, I recall thinking: ‘I need to remember this moment because some day it might be important. I will need to tell people what this is like.” Alas, my experience as a suburban kid did not pack the same historical punch as Laura’s pioneer trek from the woods of Wisconsin to the plains North Dakota. Nevertheless, I continued to hone my memory. I carefully packed away friend’s one-liners or memorable nights out, saving these images for future interpretation.

It is why I studied history, became a journalist and ultimately felt compelled to blog about the memory of my mother. Memory and words are a potent combination indeed.

The Ingalls family cannot take all the credit (or blame) for my obsession with connecting to the past. On a far deeper level, it comes from my father who possesses a sharp ability to recall distant moments and a starkly beautiful writing style. (“Kovers never forget,” he warned my husband in his wedding toast.)

When we were small, my Dad would put us to bed by telling us Skippy stories, tales of the antics of his childhood dog. Each story began exactly the same –“Once upon a time, in a teeny tiny town in upstate New York…” Yet from there Skippy usually launched into a world that was part historical, part fantasy. Skippy hated the water because Arthur threw him in one day to teach him to swim (True). Skippy caught a robber by riding the local policeman’s motorcycle. (False) Like Little House, Skippy stories connected me to the external and internal world of my father as a boy in the 1930s.

It was with great delight when my daughter and I discovered that not only had Jeanne saved all of my Little House stories, but she also kept The Little House Cookbook. The discovery of my father’s inscription behind the front cover “To our darling daughter Amy. With hugs and kisses from Mommy and Daddy” felt even more fitting.

This weekend, my father turned 80 years old. As a vibrant, engaging and exciting person, he has forever changed my definition of the term octogenarian. To celebrate, I will share with you the only recipe from the Little House Cookbook I ever successfully cooked: Heart-Shaped Cakes. These cakes taste far plainer than Laura described them in Little House on the Prairie but, then again, that’s the beauty of memory. We tend to sprinkle a little bit of sugar to much of the past.


HEART-SHAPED CAKES

The Little House Cookbook


Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 C Unbleached flour
  • 1/3 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 C chilled lard (or butter)
  • 1/3 C Cultured Buttermilk

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 425. Mix first four ingredients in a two quart mixing bowl. Run the cold lard into the dry ingredients with 2 knives, by gutting or with cold fingers. Mix a well in the center, add buttermilk and work into dough that can be rolled. Shape the dough into a ball and roll it out on a floured surface into an 8 inch circle. With a table knife dipped in flour cut the circle in half and then the halves into thirds. Shape each piece into a heart.
  • Grease baking sheet and arrange hearts so they do not touch. Bake about 15 minutes or until puffy and nicely browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle instantly with sugar.
  • When cool, eat or wrap in blue tissue paper, which is the traditional wrapping paper for gift giving.
  • Makes 6 cakes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

IT’S AWESOME TO BE FORTY

When my mother turned forty, her friends threw her a surprise party festooned with balloons stating: “You’re Old.” I found the gesture hilarious until yesterday, when I too became “old.”
For months, I planned to write a column celebrating my 40th birthday. I wanted it to be bold, irreverent, and witty. Yet, this morning, when I peered into the mirror, I felt anything but. No matter what angle I chose, I was no longer a pert young woman but someone inarguably more weathered. I could see the shadows of the old woman I was to become. It was enough to prompt a quick Google search for “plastic surgeon nyc.”
Just as I was about to crawl back into bed and rest this tired old body, something far more disturbing dawned upon me. My mother may not have been “old” at her 40th birthday party, but she would only live for 14 more years. Am I being too dark, too dramatic? Perhaps. But if I shifted the angle slighty, the message was loud and clear: Take what you’ve learned so far, and make it count.
So here it is...in true Letterman fashion (A format I am old enough to appreciate)...Reason’s It’s Awesome to be Forty.
10. I don’t look half bad for an old broad.
9. I am young enough to rollerblade, but old enough that I don’t care what people think when I fall down.
8. After voting in five presidential elections, I know that change is possible…but not permanent.
7. On that note, I know a little something about something. Finally. I no longer have to pretend.
6. When I don’t know something, I can say, “Teach me.”
5. I can live with my mistakes.
4. As a former colleague of mine once said, “I am old and rich, and you can’t make me do anything I don’t want to.” Two out of three ain’t bad.
3. I know my strengths and my flaws. I prefer to focus on the strengths.
2. I have 40 years worth of friends and family.
1. In the words of one of those old, dear friends: The first half was just practice.
Happy birthday to all my fellow ‘72ers. Twas a great year to be born.

Monday, March 26, 2012

TO JUICE OR NOT TO JUICE

I saw my mother struggle with weight her entire life. She made impassioned –albeit short-lived— forays into nearly every diet fad –Jenny Craig, Atkins, and the Summer of Fat-Free (a quasi-national movement that took place around 1995). None made her particularly happy, nor very thin. One evening, when I was rather small, she did battle with a piece of steamed fish (while we undoubtedly ate Hamburger Corn Casserole). After tasting the dry unsalted Cod, Mom burst into tears: “This tastes like shit!” she cried. Mom never cursed in front of us when we were kids, leading me to come to one conclusion: The Jeanne had gone over the edge.

That’s why, intellectually, I believe that eating balanced healthy meals –and hawkishly watching portions— coupled with regular exercise works. It’s that simple. As an adult, I have eschewed extreme diet strategies, particularly those where you eliminate an entire food group be it carbs, meat, or even sugar. I believe that, somewhere, there lies a happy medium between celebrating food and not overindulging. Is that too idealistic?

Apparently it is. Such logical thinking cannot protect me from those evenings when I inhale a plate of chocolate chip cookies or grab that third slice of pizza. Embarrassing as it is, I am a binger. As I face my 40th birthday, it's a habit I would really like to eradicate.

Recently my trainer Cedric waltzed into the gym oozing with energy. As it turned out he was on a marathon juice cleanse, entailing ten days of drinking nothing but juice bookended on either side with several days of a stringent vegetable diet. When I asked him how was feeling, he practically did a jig. “I feel great!” he proclaimed. “I’m juicing!!”

As you can imagine, I’ve never considered myself a juice fast kind of girl. It all seemed to extreme; too anti-food; and too trendy. As one of my friends wrote on Facebook, “I would miss chewing.” Yet Cedric is someone I respect. As an intelligent and articulate former athlete, he has helped many of his Brooklyn neighbors overcome obesity. What’s more, Cedric made a convincing case as he methodically explained to me why he was juicing. He wanted to fine tune his diet by slowly reincorporating foods –such as meat or starch— to see how they affected his body. The process would help him eliminate cravings in the future.

I was transfixed. For the next week, I researched every major juice fast, including Organic Avenue, Blue Print Cleanse, and iZo Cleanze. None seemed like witchcraft, nor did I hear anecdotally of any dangerous results. I discovered many of my friends (sane ones!) were actually trying this at home. They claimed cleanses gave them more energy, cleared up their skin, and helped them lose weight. Besides, every major religion has a fasting component. Doesn’t that imply a deeply-rooted connection between spiritual enlightenment and dietary cleansing? Maybe I just needed to open my mind.

The night before I was to embark upon Day 1 of the Pre-Cleanse (Steamed veggies for breakfast), something amazing happened at dinner. I had made tilapia tacos for the adults, and chicken ones for the kids, with a side of sautéed spinach. In a Bizarro World moment, my finnicky son requested the fish, which he joyously devoured. For his closing performance, he gave me the thumbs-up, reporting, “Good spinach, Mommy.” It was an absolutely lovely family evening.

As it turns out, dinner is one of the few things I can depend on each day. Even when I feel stalled at work or annoyed with my kids, I can lose myself in cutting veggies or seasoning meat. The results are usually tasty; always edible. While I would be lying if I said every evening was as dignified as the one mentioned above, I also enjoy eating these meals with my kids. It's the one moment we are sitting still together. If they were eating “real food,” and I was sipping my dinner through a straw, I’m pretty sure I’d throw a hissy fit similar to my mother’s.

Surely, we don’t need to add another cranky child to the dinner table.

Monday, February 13, 2012

TWENTY-MINUTES TO SANITY: Escarole and White Bean Soup

I’m stressed. Deadlines are looming, children are whining, and –oh yeah!— I’ve got to cook dinner. While my first inclination would be to reach for the Chinese takeout menu, a wise voice in the back of my head says: “Stop! You’ll be sorry.” Alas, that preachy voice is right. Eating garbage in the face of stress only makes me feel worse. I’m already anxious, must I be bloated too?

That’s why I am so psyched that I remembered how to make Escarole, White Bean Soup in 20 minutes. It’s healthy, fast, and –if you add chicken sausages—you think you are indulging.

Since I have little time to pontificate, here’s the deal: